Case Study: Marks & Spencer – A Commitment Approach to Engagement 

Employee Engagement is measured through an annual employee survey that gives our teams the opportunity to give their feedback on the company, their job and their manager. We carry out a pulse survey three times a year to temperature check the levels of engagement across the organisation. The engagement score is used as our people KPI, this really helps reinforce and drive the importance of engagement across the organisation. Our engagement scores are consistently in the upper quartile.

In 2012 we moved away from a transactional action planning approach in response to the employee survey results.

Instead, we introduced management teams making behaviourally based commitments in liaison with their people in response to their feedback, initiating a more transformational approach to engagement.

Managers are encouraged to think about and understand the culture they and their team set and lead in their store or business area. Managers then carry out listening groups to talk to their people about what will really make a difference.

Management Teams Make Commitments

Considering the results of the employee survey, the feedback from the listening groups and in conjunction with the employee representative group, management teams will make two to three commitments that will be more meaningful than lots of basic actions.

Commitments are long term sustainable changes in how it feels to work in that area and about people changing how they work and their behaviour.

Each business area is given a poster on which they write their commitments, this is then displayed on their noticeboard. This way the commitments are really visible to the team and become a really honest, transparent way of working rather than an action plan that is put away in a drawer.

The biggest challenge we faced was the concern from managers that the commitments were difficult to write, required some hard thinking about and can look less tangible than action plans. This was a very different way of working for Managers and many struggled with this new concept to begin with.

A Real Shift in Focus for the Business

This ‘ditching of the action plans’ was symbolic and for us represented a real shift in focus for the business and a mindset change for many line managers who had traditionally approached engagement merely as a task to be completed.

To overcome these challenges we set a communication plan to engage key stakeholders on the change and the support we needed from them to embed the commitments approach. We created supporting toolkits explaining what commitments were, best practice and some examples of what commitments could look like. The HR Business Partners were critical in coaching and educating managers and challenging their mindset. The most important aspect was explaining why we were changing the approach and the benefits of a transformational approach to engagement.

The success of the commitments relies on engaging the whole team and their buy in. Commitments should be regularly reviewed to really embed the change. Managers keep their teams updated with progress and any changes they are making to keep the commitments relevant and alive as they get new feedback and insight. The results of the pulse surveys also provides teams with a sense of their progress in driving their engagement efforts.

A Commitment Approach Makes a Real Difference

A commitment approach got our Management teams to work differently by focussing on behaviours and ways of working rather than engagement being seen as an activity/ task or action which needed doing in addition to the day job.

Commitments make a real difference to our people, they demonstrate that we are listening to their feedback and their views are important to us. Commitments can drive long term sustainable business change rather than a tick list of tasks to be completed.

Engagement is now our sole people KPI for our business and has equal weighting to sales. We have seen our engagement scores increase year on year for the last 6 years.

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  1. I’ve not heard of the commitment approach however I’m intrigued. We are just embarking on yet another round of action planning following an employee engagement survey…. plans which I suspect will once again stay in the shared drive!

    Can you share examples of some of the most effective commitments -and key principles to creating them?

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